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Bush warns CIA against ‘groupthink’ culture

President Bush has ordered new measures to bolster the Central Intelligence Agency's battle against WMD proliferation, calling for ‘diverse views’ from an agency lawmakers have accused of engaging in ‘groupthink.’
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush has ordered new measures to bolster the CIA in combating weapons of mass destruction and other threats, directing an agency that lawmakers have accused of engaging in “group think” to present “diverse views” to policy makers.

The new steps came as part of a response to the Sept. 11 commission’s report, presented last summer. In measures he approved last Thursday and announced late Tuesday, Bush elaborated on how he will respond to two recommendations he had previously embraced.

He directed outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft to press ahead with a “specialized and integrated national security work force” within the FBI. This group includes agents, analysts, linguists and surveillance experts who seek to cultivate “an institutional culture imbued with a deep expertise in intelligence and national security.”

Bush also ordered Ashcroft to improve intelligence information-sharing throughout the government.

The Sept. 11 commission urged that the CIA, among other things, beef up its analytic capabilities, build on its human intelligence capacity, strengthen its foreign-language programs and recruit a more diverse force of spies, “so they can blend more easily in foreign cities.”

Bush ordered the CIA to bolster its ability to combat weapons of mass destruction through analysis that “routinely considers, and presents to national security policy-makers, diverse views.”

Agency blistered in Senate report
The intelligence community was highly criticized in a Senate Intelligence Committee report this summer on its estimate about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

In the unanimously approved report, senators concluded that the CIA kept key information from its own and other agencies’ analysts, engaged in “group think” by failing to challenge the assumption that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and allowed President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to make false statements.

Bush also said in the new directives that the CIA should increase the number of “fully qualified, all-source analysts” by 50 percent.

All-source analysts are trained to study a variety of intelligence, including imagery and intercepts, and produce reports or briefings for policy-makers. Critics say bureaucratic walls inside and between intelligence agencies often inhibit all-source analysts’ ability to truly see all sources of information.

CIA staffing numbers are classified, so the current number of such analysts is not known.

Paramilitary plan gets 90-day review
The president delayed action on one contentious recommendation. He told Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and CIA director Porter Goss to review within 90 days a commission recommendation that lead responsibility for undercover paramilitary operations should shift to the Pentagon.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the steps were announced months after the commission’s report as part of the administration’s “continuing work to strengthen our nation’s intelligence capabilities.”

But the new steps were disclosed after the administration was embarrassed by congressional inaction on a proposed intelligence overhaul.

The intelligence legislation, which would create a new national intelligence director and national counterterrorism center, failed Saturday when Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter and James Sensenbrenner turned back a last-second deal.